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Ikeda Sensei

The 120th Anniversary of My Mentor’s Birth


The following essay by SGI President Ikeda was originally published in the Feb. 7 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.

The voices of youth raised in song are a clarion bell of hope. It is the sound heralding the arrival of a new dawn, dispelling the turbulent darkness.

In January, I listened to a stirring chorus by youth division members in Europe. They had sent me a copy of their performance of their new song “Torchbearers,” which debuted at the SGI Europe Kosen-rufu Summit—held in Frankfurt, Germany (Jan. 17–19), and attended by representatives from 35 nations. They proudly sang:

We are the torchbearers of justice
Standing for what is right
Torchbearers of courage
Striving to be the light
We are the torchbearers of freedom
For all humanity

In creating the lyrics, the young people studied the “Song of Comrades,” which was composed by my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, while he was in prison as a result of government oppression. Responding to his impassioned call in that song for “young flag bearers” to “rally now quickly, in growing numbers,” they infused the lyrics of “Torchbearers” with their firm resolve to be youth who hold aloft the banner of Buddhist humanism and the torch of the great vow for kosen-rufu.

I listened to their performance again and again, wishing that their spirit might reach Mr. Toda.

Mr. Toda was born in 1900, making Feb. 11 this year the 120th anniversary of his birth. The vast network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth that he summoned forth now spans the entire planet.

The voices of young Soka global citizens lifted in song herald a new dawn in human history, one of peace and humanism, which Mr. Toda earnestly hoped for.

Now, let us set out on a journey,
our hearts emboldened
to spread the Mystic Law
to the farthest reaches
of India.

Mr. Toda composed this poem in January 1952.

Then, in the following month of February, he proclaimed his vision of global citizenship, that we are one human family, at a youth division study seminar.

Against the backdrop of the terrible tragedy of the Korean War, he pondered long and hard about how to put an end to the sufferings of the peoples of Asia and the rest of the world, his sights set on spreading the Mystic Law and realizing a future of peaceful coexistence for all humanity.

While presenting this grand vision to the youth, Mr. Toda also worked tirelessly day after day to help each person he encountered become happy. In other words, he encouraged them one-to-one and spoke to them about Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.

The Daishonin states: “The [shared] sufferings that all living beings undergo … all these are Nichiren’s own sufferings” (“On Reprimanding Hachiman,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 934); and “The varied sufferings that all living beings undergo—all these are Nichiren’s own sufferings” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 138).

Embodying this spirit of the Daishonin, Mr. Toda grappled head-on with the diverse problems people were facing, including illness, financial hardship and family discord. He knew that transforming the destiny of humankind as a whole begins with the human revolution of each individual.

He used to say to members: “I want you all to become happy.” “Persevere in faith and in propagation of the Mystic Law as my disciples.”

Sharing Buddhism with others, however, is the most difficult of all undertakings. The road to achieving Mr. Toda’s cherished goal of 750,000-member households [announced at his inauguration as president in May 1951] seemed impossibly long.

As Mr. Toda’s direct disciple, I stood up at the age of 24, strongly determined to repay my debt of gratitude to him. Uniting with my fellow members from Kamata Chapter with whom I shared deep bonds, I embarked on the February Campaign,[1] which marked the first major breakthrough in the effort to expand our movement.

We of Kamata Chapter chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo intensely, visited as many people as possible and earnestly shared Nichiren Buddhism. I have fond memories of our singing Soka Gakkai songs together as we set out to visit even one more person and one more house in our endeavor to engage in Buddhist dialogue.

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, speaking of how our bodies correspond to the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the Daishonin says that our legs correspond to kyo [lit. “sutra” or “teaching”].[2] The good fortune and benefit of the Mystic Law spread when we take action, when we go out and work for the happiness of others and for the sake of the Law.

Our members at that time were fighting hard to show actual proof of victory through faith while tackling the many problems and challenges they were facing. Though showered with abuse due to people’s lack of understanding, they continued to chant for others’ happiness and to patiently foster their connections to Buddhism. How dedicated and noble those members were!

Sometimes we agonize over not being able to convince someone to start practicing. But such worries are the worries of a Buddha.

During the February Campaign, we encouraged one another with Nichiren’s words “Still I am not discouraged” (“The Essentials for Attaining Buddhahood,” WND-1, 748). We gave our all, day after day, engaging in dialogue with courage and sincerity, determined to report our victory to Mr. Toda. And we succeeded, setting new records and ultimately introducing 201 new-member households to Nichiren Buddhism in a single month.

When disciples align their hearts with that of their mentor and unite with fellow members in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind,” they can bring forth the immeasurable power of the Buddha and the boundless benefit of faith. They can achieve victory without fail.

The February Campaign demonstrated this essence of faith to the entire Soka Gakkai membership.

I vowed to continue praying for the victory of my fellow members in Kamata throughout my life, and indeed, throughout eternity. It is wonderful to see that many of their family members and friends are walking the path of faith as fellow Bodhisattvas of the Earth, taking action to carry on our movement throughout Japan, the United States and the rest of the world.

Last month (January 2020), the SGI-USA women’s division held joyful and energetic leaders meetings and conferences in Florida, New York and Los Angeles. My wife, Kaneko, and I were able to view video footage of these gatherings showing the beaming smiles of the participants.

A representative from Guam, where the inaugural meeting of the SGI was held 45 years ago (on Jan. 26, 1975), even traveled to Florida for the conference there. Successive national women’s and young women’s leaders, of whom my wife and I have fond memories, also attended the gatherings.

As we watched the video, my wife kept applauding this network of outstanding women, who perfectly exemplify the Daishonin’s words “You will grow younger, and your good fortune will accumulate” (“Unity of Husband and Wife,” WND-1, 464).

Mr. Toda’s belief that we are one human family, which he articulated in the midst of the original February Campaign (in 1952), has informed all my dialogues over the years. This was a point of fundamental agreement that former South African President Nelson Mandela (1918–2013), who devoted his life to ending apartheid, and I shared during our dialogue.

It was 30 years ago, on Feb. 11, 1990, that Mr. Mandela, an indomitable champion of human rights, finally emerged triumphantly from prison after over 10,000 days (27 years). Interestingly, that year also marked the 90th anniversary of the birth of Mr. Toda, an indomitable champion of the Mystic Law.

In October that same year, together with a group of youth division members, I welcomed Mr. Mandela during his first visit to Japan. This is an unforgettable memory. And the two of us were delighted to be able to meet again five years later (in July 1995), when he visited Japan as the new president of South Africa.

During his imprisonment, Mr. Mandela continued his tireless efforts against apartheid, turning many of the guards and those who persecuted him into friends through dialogue.

What was the source of his strength?

The key, he attested, was his faith in human nature, his conviction that all people “have a core of decency, and that if their heart is touched, they are capable of changing.”[3]

In the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging shows respect for others through his actions. This is because of his great, unwavering conviction that all people possess the Buddha nature. Today, the youth of Soka, emulating Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, are working together to expand our network of human equality and respect for the dignity of life around the globe. I am convinced that both Mr. Mandela and Mr. Toda are watching over their efforts with the smiles of indomitable champions.

In my dialogues with many world leaders, including former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (1898–1976), I was often deeply moved when I realized that the person I was speaking with was roughly the same age that Mr. Toda would have been were he alive.

That was how I felt when I met the American entrepreneur Armand Hammer (1898–1990). He was 91 years old when we met in Los Angeles in February 1990, just when the news of Mr. Mandela’s release was announced.

Mr. Hammer had been a key proponent of the summit meetings between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which resulted in the end of the Cold War. He spoke of his role when I met him again at Soka University in Japan four months later (in June 1990).

He once said, “In all my time and in all my actions, I have tried to accomplish something of lasting benefit to the world; to add what I can to the riches of the planet and to share with all people the beauty and the delight of life.”[4][/ref]

Mr. Hammer and other leading thinkers of Mr. Toda’s generation with whom I forged connections, all in their final years, placed great hopes in the Soka Gakkai’s efforts to create a brighter future.

I will never forget this passage from the Daishonin’s writings that I used to read with Mr. Toda: “Although [the Buddha] was to have lived in this world until the age of 120, he passed away after eighty years, bequeathing the remaining forty years of his life span to us” (“The Four Debts of Gratitude,” WND-1, 44).

Similarly, Mr. Toda bequeathed us with the Soka Gakkai—the organization that he described as more precious than his own life and that is dedicated to carrying out the Buddha’s intent. Mr. Toda’s spirit, 120 years after his birth, remains alive and vital in the harmonious community of practitioners that is the Soka Gakkai today. Making his heart our own, we are advancing in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind” toward realizing the great vow for kosen-rufu through the compassionate propagation of the Great Law. As such, we are able to tap limitless wisdom and strength.

In this month of February, when the Soka Gakkai traditionally redoubles its efforts to share Nichiren Buddhism with others, the plum blossoms have started to bloom in Japan as harbingers of spring despite the cold winds that continue to blow.

Let us keep moving forward courageously alongside our fellow members united in a shared vow! Let us spread the fragrant benefit of the Mystic Law throughout society and the world and perform a joyous melody of spring!


  1. February Campaign: In February 1952, Daisaku Ikeda, then an advisor to Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter, initiated a dynamic propagation campaign. Together with the Kamata members, he broke through the previous monthly record of some 100 new-member households by introducing Nichiren Buddhism to 201 new-member households. ↩︎
  2. Nichiren Daishonin says: “We may say that our head corresponds to myo, our throat to ho, our chest to ren, our stomach to ge, and our legs to kyo. Hence this five-foot body of ours constitutes the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 28). ↩︎
  3. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994), p. 402. ↩︎
  4. Armand Hammer with Neil Lyndon, Hammer (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1987), p. 14. ↩︎

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